Sandra Day O’Connor might have been on to something when in her most often quoted address, “Portia’s Progress.” which she delivered in 1991 on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of women’s graduates from New York University School of Law, she noticed that New York women have a way with the law. In the speech she revisits her own gender discrimination and cautions against the “New Feminism” which posits that women and men have distinct ways of viewing the world. In this lecture, Justice O’Connor argues that to embrace the “New Feminism” is to relegate one’s thinking to the old-fashioned notion that women and men are different. She begins with a history of early women lawyers and their unique history to New York:
“The first woman to sit on the federal bench was a New Yorker, as was the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. A New York woman wrote the state’s first workmen’s compensation law, and a New York woman wrote the “Little Wagner” act that permitted New York City employees to bargain collectively without violating antitrust laws.” And, a New York woman worked on every major civil rights case that came before the United States Supreme Court in the 1950s and 1960s. You all can be very proud of this tradition. But being an early woman lawyer was not an easy accomplishment, even for New Yorkers.”[i]
Fast forward to 2010 and the three women who sit on the Supreme Court are all New York women: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.
Is it something in the New York water? Or is it something in the way they communicate?
[i] “Portia’s Progress” (Madison Lecture, New York University School of Law), New York City, October 29,1991. New York University Law Review 66 (December, 1991): 1546-57.